The Beginning of the End (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 2-26-15)
Years from now, the world will look back on February 26, 2015, as the day that the Internet began to die. Today, the FCC reclassifies the Internet as a common carrier service and imposes archaic 1930’s era regulation upon the most innovative and creative culture since the Renaissance.
Very soon, an avalanche of rules and compliance shall engulf the makers and creators that transformed our daily lives. After today, the creativity, the lifeblood of the Internet, will begin to slowly drain away. The Internet will evolve from an experience that must be created into a machine that must be managed.
How will history judge us when they look back at us? Will they ask themselves, “Why would a free people give away another piece of freedom?” Will they question, “How did they let this happen?” Or will they wonder, “Did they even really know?”
The precursor of today’s events is the discussion of Net Neutrality. Net Neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. The goal of Net Neutrality is to keep the Internet open and free. No one group or collection of groups should be allowed to dominate or dictate activity on the Internet.
In all of the literature I’ve read on the subject, I’ve found no serious opposition to the principle of Net Neutrality in the United States. Virtually everyone philosophically supports Net Neutrality. And why shouldn’t they? Net Neutrality is about freedom.
Along this vein, the FCC proposed a set of regulations based around six rules founded in Net Neutrality (in shortened, summary form).
No blocking – Service providers cannot block legal content.
No throttling – Service providers cannot throttle legal content.
No paid prioritization – Service providers cannot prioritize traffic based on business relationships, and also cannot prioritize their own services.
Open Internet conduct standard – Service providers cannot adopt practices that would hurt consumers or content providers.
Transparency – Service providers must provide specifics on how they manage their networks.
Reasonable network management – In certain situations, traffic must be prioritized in order that all services operate as expected. For example, video should be prioritized in order to ensure a continuous stream. Service providers must perform network management in a reasonable manner.
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? I think so, too. But like they say…the devil is in the details.
In order to implement Net Neutrality, the FCC will reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. When this happens, the FCC assumes the power to regulate the Internet under the obsolete and archaic rules it used to regulate the AT&T telephone monopoly.
Those rules were intended to protect consumers from the AT&T monopoly. A fair amount of social justice occurred as government regulations redistributed profits so that services could be provided to more rural areas. However, the rules also permitted the government to set investment earnings and eliminate risk for Wall Street.
Do we want to see Internet rates rise so that Washington insiders can get richer? We’re told that the price fixing provisions won’t be enabled. That’s fine for now, but what about after the next election? Once you start traveling down a road, it’s really hard to change direction.
The better solution is to create provisions that increase competition. Right now, Augusta has very few broadband providers – three national providers that dominate the market, and a handful of smaller providers – and a few wireless broadband providers. What if competition increased so that the national providers held less than 50% of the Augusta market with regional and home grown small businesses serving the rest? In competitive markets, the pricing comes down while the quality of service goes up. Wouldn’t that be better for our community?
Instead, the FCC is putting us on a path that leads to higher prices and reduced competition. Most certainly, these new regulations will be challenged in court. Perhaps we have an opportunity to shout loudly and make our voices heard. Otherwise, I’m afraid that our grandchildren will study the decline of the tech industry that occurred during the early 21st century.
Until next time@gregory_a_baker